More than a movie: Five cinemas that changed my life.

More than a movie: Five cinemas that changed my life. By Tara Judah.

For film-fans, movie buffs and cinephiles alike, there is something magical about sitting down to a couple of hours of visual entertainment. And as much as I love to sit back at home, fire up my projector and put on a DVD, there is something special about actually going to the cinema. Over the years, I’ve visited countless cinemas, theatres and picture houses, every single one of them shaping both my film knowledge and ever-increasing appreciation of the art form. But there are really only a handful that, in one-way or another, have changed my life; four of which I have worked for and, in the interest of full disclosure, one of which I am currently employed by and affiliated with. Please allow me to share them with you. I really hope that after reading this we will have the pleasure of finding out in the comments section below your own cinema-going experiences and how they’ve added to – or even changed – your lives, because truly seeing a film is so much more than just watching a movie.

Before it was a classy Palace cinema, The Kino was a dirty little art house Dendy. The very first cinema I ever had the pleasure of working in (as an unruly usher who would often dance in the foyer when I really ought to be making choc-tops), The Kino introduced me to a world of film that my then-youthful self was relatively unaware of. With its incredibly creative staff – including an inspiring screenwriter, a talented singer, an old school projectionist and a bon vivant of the highest order whose combined stories could produce a scandalous best seller – The Kino is where my formerly innocent self learnt about anything and everything; from how to understand and appreciate David Lynch films, to the star power of Nastassja Kinski; from how to hold a catering tray at a Wim Wenders’ premiere, to understanding what “marketing” really meant when The Blair Witch Project was released; from how to clean up after an AFI industry event, to how to usher militantly (and yes, I did confiscate the odd mobile phone and I often shone torches in the faces of young kids who thought it appropriate to talk during a film); and finally, to learning which Italian restaurants in Melbourne had the finest gnocchi and the good manners to call their female customers Bella.

A long time since my early days of ushering at the Kino I found myself involved in Bristol’s strangely alluring mix between leftist political militancy and flower power hippy-ism known as The Cube. Not just a cinema, but also a space for live music, art shows, cabaret and any other form of entertainment you can possibly envisage taking place on or around a stage, The Cube is an entirely volunteer-run co-operative where monies made go right back into the preservation of the place. From temporarily taking care of their film press to drinking countless pints of Guinness whilst learning how to break down, splice and lace up 35mm film, The Cube taught me many things in its own unique and often “quirky” way. Where every volunteer is considered an artist and is encouraged to contribute in any way they can (even if that means the films never start even close to ten or fifteen minutes after their advertised session time), The Cube had me doing it all: from wheeling out bins of empty beer bottles to waxing lyrical about why we should or shouldn’t screen Japanese pink films, rare experimental or the latest Danny Boyle flick.

Formerly the NFT (National Film Theatre), The BFI (British Film Institute) is London’s Mecca of all things film. Although I remember it for a first date to see Le Cercle Rouge and where I finally caught The Celluloid Closet – which prominently features a younger version of my then University Professor Dr Richard Dyer – The BFI is also home to the LFF (London Film Festival), holds the UK’s only wholly devoted moving-image gallery space, features unique and exquisite programming that could itself serve as a post-graduate film education and sells the best damn daiquiris money can buy. A mere Waterloo Bridge stroll from King’s College (where I studied for four wonderful years), The BFI is not only a fantastic film resource but also became a sort of “home” for me where I could wander in and find fellow film nerd friends hanging out having coffee or waiting for the next session of Jan Svankmajer’s Alice to screen. As a student representative for them during my masters’ year, I’ve been championing their achievements for some time now. If you’re in the neighbourhood, be sure to drop by if for no other reason than to take advantage of their increasingly digitised archive collection which you can watch FOR FREE in their Mediatheque.

2. The Lumiere (Melbourne, Australia, now closed)

When I returned to Australia last year after eight long years away I was incredibly saddened to hear that Melbourne’s beloved Lumiere had closed down at least five years earlier. The Lumiere, responsible for my introduction to Catherine Breillat and the far too visceral Romance, was, whilst a haven for dirty old men, often the only cinema in Melbourne where you could go to see such subversive film content. Famous for its fight to continue to screen Base-Moi when the OFLC were intent upon banning it, The Lumiere was home to several very small screens and a staff with the most wonderful attitude of superiority one could ever hope to find. Certainly, you’d have to wait till the old men in trench coats had taken their seats before selecting your own, but what a way to experience subversion.

The Astor Theatre has long been my favourite cinema anywhere in the world. The very first of my introductions to actual film culture, lovely as growing up in the middle of suburbia was, learning that there was anything other than being condemned to the life of a philistine was a more than a welcome relief. Having first attended at the age of fourteen to see a 70mm print of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet to now sitting comfortably and at home in the ticket box of such a grand old theatre, The Astor truly encapsulates everything that I love about film. From its repertory programming of double bills with an intermission to actually screening film (as well as a devotion to the preservation of it) The Astor Theatre is my one true love. Whilst Marzipan, “The Astor Cat” won’t talk to me when I’m working and is only interested in hanging out when I come to visit as a patron, every single time I step inside that building I am filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. Responsible for introducing me to films like The Great Escape, Das Boot, Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, seeing a film up on that big screen is a true event like no other. Reminding me always that cinema is about so much more than just the content of the film, The Astor is a historically and personally significant theatre that I hope will continue to change my life for many years yet to come.

There are countless other cinemas, theatres and picture houses that have also shaped my understanding and passion for film over the years, a few of which deserve at least an honourable mention for not making my final five including; The Anthology Film Archives in New York where I had the opportunity to see rare found footage films; the Electric and Prince Charles cinemas in London, the former of which has a bar actually in the cinema and the latter of which costs about as much as a coffee for admission; the Sex Cinema in Amsterdam that screens insane ‘60s and ‘70s 8mm porn films that I bet you can’t get anywhere else in the world and, of course, Melbourne’s ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) whose Cinematheque programming is nothing short of inspiring. But those are, I’m afraid, stories for another time.

Discuss: Which cinemas have changed your life and why?

16 Responses to “More than a movie: Five cinemas that changed my life.”

  1. >The Valhalla (Richmond): it was just the coolest, yet least pretentious, place to watch great (and not so great) indy, art-house and cult movies. Whenever I went there, I felt like I belonged. And their calendar posters were the home decorator item for anyone wanting to show off their movie buffness.The Boronia Twin: it was just another suburban twin cinema but it’s where I saw most movies as a little kid, and was where my love of movies was born.

  2. >The Regent, Brisbane for me. Working out of that gorgeous building with BIFF for 4 years holds lots of great memories. I remember the mixed smell of ground coffee and popcorn that hit you the instant you walked into that beautiful foyer. My most memorable moment was watching Czech gothic film Valarie and Her Week of Wonders in 2004 with 3-4 reel changes in a full cinema. It was exciting. The Regent will always be special for me. I even love its friendly ghosts… Coreen H

  3. >What a wonderful piece, Tara!

  4. >The Cremorne Orpheum theatre in Cremorne, Sydney is an art deco masterpiesce that was beautifully restored complete with Wurlitzer organ that is played before each session and then disappears into the stage before the start of the film. It is also a huge theatre by today's standards and I recall seeing 'A Fish Called Wanda' there on November 19th, 1988. What makes this hilarious film more memorable is the fact that my son was born 10 hours after the film finished. He was 6 weeks premature and the doctors widely credit my wife's constant laughter through the film as the catalyst for the early birth.

  5. >My top five would be,5.Valhalla(Glebe): Chasing Amy, Requiem for a Dream.4.Lumiere (Melbourne): The Piano Teacher, The Ring (original)3. Cinema St Andre des Arts (Paris): The Lady vanishes, Seargent York, Pushover, Stagecoach, and heaps more.2.Chauvel (Paddington): Too many great films to name.1. Dubbo RSL cinema (Dubbo):101 Dalmations, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, T2, NIghtmare on Elm Street (The one in 3D. Too young to buy tickets, we snuck in through the fire exit), Batman 1 and 2 (Tim Burton's), Twister and all the other films I watched growing up.

  6. >All of mine are from Canberra and sadly none of them exist.1. Cosmo Twin Cinema, Woden, Canberra. Tucked away in a basement in the bus interchange, this lovely little twin cinema was the place to go for all the movies in my childhood. I saw Labyrinth twice on it's original run here. It was the cheapest cinema in Canberra ($5 tickets!) until a filthy Hoyts opened up nearby and ran them out. 2. Centre Cinema, Canberra. I think this may have been the only other cinema in Australia to screen 70mm prints. Huuuuge cinema. Saw so many films here- most notably 2001 and Hamlet, The Muppets Take Manhatten and a memorable late night screenin of Toy Story 2 seen whilst high that transformed my brain forever more. Is now a nightclub.3. Electric Shadows, Canberra. Canberra's one stalwart arthouse cinema. Down in the basement where youd see all the films no one else would show. Seeing A Clockwork Orange, Waking Life and Boogie Nights are memories ill never forget. Now relocated and transformed into a Dendy.Cinemas have always been magicalPlaces to me. I used to have dreams all the time about finding the ultimate cinema. Gah. I've waffled. You've struck a sentimental chord in me Ms. Judah!

  7. >So great to hear from everyone. Seems a lot of the greatest places are also the ones that have sadly closed down. Makes for an important reminder that if you love a cinema, you need to make sure you go there to support them and keep them open! The Astor often show 70mm prints – Hamlet & 2001: A Space Odyssey amongst them – the only ones now available in Australia. It's great to see that "cinema" means so much to so many of you too. 🙂

  8. >Not sure about changing my life, but some memorable cinema experiences in no particular order include:EARLS COURT (Rockhampton) a massive 1,000+ seater with louvre windows as walls (no aircon)and as a young teenager watching anything showing each Saturday night (Elvis, Ann Margaret etc..), sitting up the back smoking (so cool) as you then could in cinemas in Qld.ROMA (George St, Sydney) watching a late/midnight screening of 'Citizen Kane' and seeing rats walk slowly across the bottom screen masking. STATE (Sydney) buying a standing room only ticket for 'Jaws' on first release, standing at the back of the theatre literally holding thousands of people and seeing the whole audience levitate out of their seats in fright. Great stuff. FORUM (Melbourne) hosting '85 Melbourne Film Festival – opened by Alan Parker, who made a point of mentioning that England were winning the Ashes at the time. Magnificant picture palace/s. Heart-breaking what has happened there.BRIGHTON BAY (Melbourne)during release of 'Croc Dundee' and seeing people FALL OUT OF THEIR SEATS laughing, plus having to usher one full house out the fire escape, then let in another full house, then another!Yeh, OK, the punch at the Valhalla Richmond parties!

  9. >the Hoyts Roxy cinema at Parramatta, my first film i saw there was the Empire strikes back,and two other cinemas the old village parramatta (E.T, Indiana jones and the temple of doom, Gremlins)and the old greater union parramatta the last film I saw at the old greater union was The Lost world in 1997, i loved the old village parramatta when it was 4 cinemas, the old greater union pitt centre the last film i saw was Central station back in 1999

  10. >I don;t think anyone has mentioned the Carlton Movie House, now, sadly, an STA shop! I lived around the corner for the cinema when I studied at Melbourne Uni in the late eighties and would often wonder down there to watch a late session as out student house had no TV.Saw some great stuff, The Year My Voice Broke and Scorsese's After Hours. Also sat through some terrible crap, a lot of it political (in the worst way) which I went to to impress girls I was trying to date or because that's just what you did in the eighties….Also fondly recall the Electric Shadows in Canberra and some great old art deco cinema in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, many of them sadly no longer with us.

  11. >Definitely the Roxy at Parramatta: saw Star Wars and The Nutcracker Fantasy there. Otherwise, the Village Twin Blacktown, where I saw Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Batman and Terminator 2, as well as countless animated Disney classics.

  12. >I am suprised the Waverly Cinema in Melbourne hasnt got a mentionA lovely family operated suite of cinemas in one small building with low budget promotion and equally low priced admission!!

  13. >Top 31.The Schonell Theatre in St. Lucia, Brisbane was where I first saw A Clockwork Orange… and yes, it blew my mind!2.The Metro Cinema [now closed] Brisbane CBD.My then girlfriend, now wife, used to go on dates and once saw a double feature of Natural Born Killers and Killing Zoe.3.The Luna Outdoor in West Leederville, Perth WA.They show terrific films in perfect weather, the best outdoor cinema experience around.

  14. Hey Tara. Thanks for mentioning the Cube. Hope you are well.

  15. Hi Tara,

    Enjoyed your comments. I enjoy reading your movie reviews too. Much as I love the atmosphere of the Astor with its huge screen and double feature sessions (usually to packed audiences!) the cinema I most associate with and which brings me great joy and continuing fondness is the Capitol Theatre in Swanston Street. So many Saturdays in my youth were spent watching movies that still remain among my favourites such as “The Towering Inferno”, “A Star is Born” and “Superman”. This 87-year old thing of beauty still captivates and inspires many people because of its geometrically plastered ceiling designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony. Half the size it originally was, the 1963-65 conversion saw the stalls area ripped out, taking with it over 1400 seats, leaving only the deluxe lounge and balcony as the remaining section now raked down to a newly inserted stage – with a seating capacity of around 650 turning it into a single stadium-style cinema. As I am sure you know it is now owned by RMIT University it is mainly used for lectures and for the annual Melbourne Comedy and FIlm Festivals. Sadly RMIT does not have the funding or committed people to bring

    One day hopefully, someone will be able to afford to restore this neglected gem of architecture back to its former iconic glory. To see the ceiling relit with its myriad of coloured lights would be a dream come true, but sadly it seems along way off. I hope that I along with the grand old girl herself are around to celebrate her 100th birthday in 2024.

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